RogerBW's Blog

Sunglasses After Dark, Nancy A. Collins 17 April 2015

1989 horror, prototypical urban fantasy. Sonja Blue, vampire killer of vampires, is locked up and medicated in a mental hospital. But that isn't going to stop her for long.

And they said Cyberpunk was adolescent fantasy. This is a might-makes-right world, where the only way to stop yourself being raped and/or killed is to be a better rapist and/or killer. Sonja Blue is an unstoppable combat machine and a pretty young woman at the same time, who slaughters bad guys all over the place but that's OK because she feels real bad about it for a matter of, oh, minutes afterwards. (And of course her default activity is working as a prostitute, because what else does a woman do?) More interesting is her mental struggle with the "Other", which wants to do all the bad stuff and glory in it; is that really a separate mental presence, or an aspect of a fragmented personality? Sadly, we aren't going to find out.

Sonja breaks out of the asylum, of course, and goes after the person who put her in there, while also narrating her tragic backstory. (Gotta have a tragic backstory; pretty much everyone here does, explained at length.) There are Pretenders all over the place, creatures which disguise themselves as humans in order to prey on humans; some are sophisticated succubi or vampires, others are brutish ogres or mindless zombie-style revenants. And for reasons unclear there are also seraphs, and I'll admit this passage worked well for me:

It smiles and speaks, but its language is beyond me. I am too base a creature to understand. All I hear are wind chimes. If I try to answer, all the seraph will hear is a cat being skinned alive.

There's nobody here to like. Sonja is the closest we get to a sympathetic character, and she's definitely not one of the good guys. Narration is inconsistent between first and third person, and jumps into extended dream sequences which (as usual with these things) bring the action to a halt. Generally each scene stands alone: Sonja walks into a room, something happens, and she goes berserk and kills people. Rinse off the blood and repeat.

I read this because it was pointed out to me as one of the origin texts of the Vampire RPG, and that's very clearly the case. The book was apparently written in reaction to Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat and sequels, and it tries to move vampires back from sexy to beastly. There's lots of gore and entrails here (as well as plenty of tawdry and/or violent sex). But the feel of the world, the seediness of everything from cheap nasty bars to the houses of the very rich, is very clearly an inspiration for the World of Darkness, as of course is the "kill everyone and agonise over it later" mindset. What didn't make it into the games is the occasional flash of humour:

Luckily, she'd come to in that particular morgue before and was familiar with the layout, so there wasn't any problem escaping.

But really, that's not enough to relieve the overall sense of oppression. Followed by In the Blood.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:24am on 18 April 2015

    A vampire needs a job where they only have to work during the hours of darkness, and to avoid too many awkward questions from HR like next of kin, emergency contacts, National Insurance number, PAYE tax code etc. they probably want a freelance job that can be done cash in hand and entirely off the books. Most vampires probably don't have a legally valid identity. While not a great choice, prostitution does at least fit those criteria and as a vampire she can probably handle troublesome customers herself.

    There are probably other jobs that could work, but many of them require more setup and maintenance and a legal identity eg. mystery author that rarely meets their publisher or readers, night time radio DJ (but the interview to get hired could be a problem) etc. I'd be interested to see what suggestions you have for a job.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 09:18am on 18 April 2015

    I should say first of all that the darkness constraint doesn't apply in this world:

    I didn't like going out in direct daylight; it made my skin itch and caused headaches that threatened to separate the lobes of my brain. However, I did not burst into flame or crumble to dust the moment I set foot outside. As long as I wore heavy clothing and sunglasses, I could function with only a minimum of discomfort.

    The lack of legal identity is a reasonable consideration, though. OK, jobs paid in cash that don't require daylight exposure. The first one that comes to mind is a taxi or minicab driver, since you can pretty much set your own hours. Night-shift security for an undiscriminating organisation. From around 2000 onwards VoIP bridges start to make it possible to do phone-bank jobs from home, and they're always after people to cover the night shift.

    With a legal identity, there are non-creative writing gigs (low-paid tech writing for example, audio transcription, translation) that can pay enough to live on. If you have some degree of creativity and can effectively market yourself, pretty much anything artistic.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 04:22pm on 18 April 2015

    Security guard is a crap, low paid job. She could easily make more as a prostitute, though what you've not said is how much she was making. High class and rolling in it, hard working home calls, or street walker?

    Of course what you really need here is centuries of investments in trust funds generating a nice income without actually doing anything.

    Then there are illegal jobs. Hitwoman springs to mind, get paid for what she does anyway.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 10:46am on 19 April 2015

    If there were any sign that any of this had been a factor in her thinking, I'd have be more inclined to give the book a pass. But there isn't; it's just another sign of her being a bit broken.

  5. Posted by Dr Bob at 05:24pm on 19 April 2015

    The World of Darkness link becomes explicit rather than implicit in a Sonja Blue novel set in the WoD universe. Can't remember the title.

    I read Sunglasses After Dark way back in the 80s/early 90s and all memory of the prostitution had fled my mind. Or possibly just blurred with all the other prostitute-bad ass heroines.

    I did always wonder who came first: Sonja Blue or Durham Red?

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 05:26pm on 19 April 2015

    I gather Collins was quite hacked off with WW for a while, but I guess she came to terms with them eventually.

    Durham Red was first published in 1987 (2000AD no. 505), two years before this book. Might well have been parallel development, of course.

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